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Funded PhD Opportunity

Living alongside the architecture of conflict in a transitional society: A study of mental health and mobility

Subject: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology


Mental health problems are reported to be significantly higher in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK (Mental Health Foundation, 2016).  Much of this is attributed to the legacy of conflict and the interconnected issues of poverty and inequality. Direct and indirect experiences of violence and division have been linked to a wide range of mental health issues and disorders. A 2014 study found that despite the inception of the formal cessation of violence and the signing of a peace agreement in 1998, significant parts of the population continue to report poor mental health related to the exposure of trauma and conflict (Ferry et, al, 2014). For some people in Northern Ireland, the conflict continues to be a lived reality where the legacy of violence demarcates space and place and shapes mobility. The ‘architecture’ of that conflict comprising peacewalls, commemorative monuments, plaques and murals, as well as flags and emblems, intersects with the everyday geographies of interface communities (see Shirlow 2003) who are tasked with navigating segregation, sites of trauma and memory and other visible manifestations of conflict and division. Previous studies have pointed to high incidences of poor mental health among those who live in close proximity to peacelines (Reilly 2011) but there is an absence of interdisciplinary work which looks at the impact of living among the architecture of conflict and division in transitional societies more generally.

The overarching aim of this interdisciplinary PhD project therefore, which draws on conceptual and methodological approaches from both Geography and Psychology, is to examine the ways in which exposure to the ‘architecture’ of conflict may impact upon wellbeing, mental health and mobility within and across interface communities in Northern Ireland. It aims to:

1.Map conflict architecture in and alongside two interface communities;

2.Explore how such material impacts mobility and wellbeing within interfaces;

3.Ascertain how conflict architecture influences transgenerational experiences of conflict and trauma.

The project will incorporate a triangulated methodological approach encompassing both qualitative and quantitative approaches to elucidate a better understanding of the relationship between mental health and landscapes of division, trauma and memory. These approaches will include cognitive mapping, semi-structured interviews and a survey. It is anticipated that this PhD project will generate considerable impact in addressing a pressing societal challenge and have policy implications for both peacebuilding and mental health interventions.


Ferry, F., Bunting, B., Murphy, S., O’Neill, S., Stein, D. and Koenen, K., 2014. Traumatic events and their relative PTSD burden in Northern Ireland: a consideration of the impact of the ‘Troubles’. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 49(3), pp.435-446. O’Reilly, D. and Stevenson, M., 2003. Mental health in Northern Ireland: have “the Troubles” made it worse? Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 57(7), pp.488-492. O'Reilly, D., 2011. Give my head peace. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 65(Suppl_2), pp.A14-A15. Shirlow, P., 2003. Who fears to speak’: Fear, mobility, and ethno‐sectarianism in the two ‘ardoynes. The Global Review of Ethnopolitics, 3(1), pp.76-91.

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Experience of presentation of research findings


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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I would highly recommend Ulster University as you get so much support.  Coleraine is a beautiful town and the people are so friendly. It was a really positive experience.

Carin Cornwall - PhD Environmental Sciences

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Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 19 February 2018

Interview Date
March 2018

Contact supervisor

Dr Sara McDowell

Other supervisors


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